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Profinium calling out for big dreams to achieve together

In the season for giving, Profinium is setting its standard higher than ever before.

In its fifth year, the Profinium Achieving Dreams Together program is asking everyone to dream big – and then dream even bigger. Operating under the business’ Profinium Dreams Foundation, the program sets out to help dreams come true for families in need over the holiday season in their three operating areas – Owatonna, Mankato and Truman/Fairmount.

“This year we will be doing four dreams in each of our markets. It started out with about seven in each, but this year we really wanted to take it to the next level,” said Karen Legault, the vice president of marketing for Profinium. “We’re pairing down the number so that we will spend a little bit more money and make an even bigger impact.”

Nominations will be accepted until Dec. 6 for the next dreamers who need a little extra help during pivotal moments in their lives. Those who have a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor who could benefit from the program are asked to visit profinium.com/giving to begin the nomination process.

Throughout the years, Profinium has made a wide range of dreams come true. From buying a family a couch so they could spend quality time together at night to sending a terminally ill mother and her daughter on a dream vacation to Paris, Legault said you can never underestimate the power of a single good deed changing lives forever.

“We had this one dream where an older man had a snow blower that was so old and we figured sure – we can get this guy a new snow blower,” Legault said about a dream they helped make a reality in Waseca. “When we called the nominator, we learned that this is the man who will go around to all of his neighbors and do all the snow removal with that rickety old snow blower spending hours outside in the cold just to help others. That was a real game changer, because this was really about helping a whole community.”

For Legault, one of the more memorable dreams she recalls was the gift of sound to a baby girl in 2018, when the program was able to pay for her much needed hearing aids.

“I will just never forget sweet little Jemma,” Legault said. “Here was a little girl during one of the most developmental times in her life and by helping pay for her hearing aids, we were able to make sure she wouldn’t miss out on life.”

During the dream-making process, Legault said Profinium prioritizes working with local businesses and companies to further strengthen the community bond with the recipients. She said this rings true with Profinium’s mission to be a key player in the communities they serve.

“Being invested in our community is one of our pursuits,” Legault said. “It’s our mission, our vision, our value – it’s always one of our No. 1 goals. It’s part of what makes Profinium an amazing place to work when our senior leadership wants us to be involved in our community and volunteering in our community so that we in turn can strengthen it.”

Over the years, Legault said hundreds of nominations come in for the team to sift through and pick the recipients. While that is undoubtedly the hardest part of the process, Legault said she is anticipating that in this year of COVID-19, the need is going to be even greater and the dreams even bigger.

“We need that empowerment right now in any way that we can get it,” Legault said. “We know that there is going to be so many people who will need that help this year, so we want people to think about these dreams and then dream even bigger beyond it. If money was no object, what would you want to do for that family? Let’s put these people on a totally different path of life.”

Owatonna school officials to discuss commitments to help student performance
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The Owatonna School Board will be hosting it’s World’s Best Workforce annual meeting at 5 p.m. Monday

The community will receive updates at the meeting on the district’s status report, as well as learn about some of the actions the district is taking to address five goals set by the Minnesota Legislature. Among the goals that will be addressed include:

All children are ready for school

All third-graders can read at grade level

All racial and economic achievement gaps between students are closed

All students are ready for career and college

All students graduate from high school

The meeting will be livestreamed and residents can expect to learn more about the district’s strategic plan and commitments. People may join the virtual meeting by visiting the Owatonna Public School website at www.isd761.org or tuning in via the Owatonna Public Schools’ YouTube channel.

In conjunction with this meeting, the district’s dashboard will be updated, which can be found at https://sites.google.com/isd761.org/opsdashboard/home. The website highlights four commitments the district has made, including creating 21st century learners, creating a safe and caring community, ensuring high quality teaching and learning, and equity. The dashboard highlights data which shows the district’s efforts to align with these commitments.

The dashboard is updated frequently throughout the year as the district makes progress.

“Most of the items being measured on our dashboard are annually reviewed as they are not necessarily tied to events as much as processes,” Elstad said in an email to the People’s Press.

The World’s Best Workforce legislation was passed in 2013 to ensure Minnesota school districts are making efforts to increase student performance, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. The MDE wants Minnesota students to be competitive and ready for the working world or college after school.

More information about the World’s Best Workforce can be found at https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/wbwf/.


Local schools struggle to fill staffing gaps during pandemic


Demand for substitute teachers has increased as more and more teachers have had to quarantine or self isolate.

Schools across the region are feeling a staffing strain, forcing many to consider switching to distance learning sooner rather than later.

At Northfield Public Schools, despite minimal evidence of in-school transmission, students shifted into a distance learning model late last week until at least the end of winter break. Superintendent Matt Hillmann noted that change was necessitated due to the sharp increases in positive COVID-19 tests within Rice County over the last month and concern over whether the district would be able to sufficiently staff in-person activities due to the high number of employees who are away from work due to COVID-19-related complications. In the week of Nov. 6-13 alone, 72 of the 550-600 district wide staff were out per day. Of the 72, Northfield Public Schools was unable to fill approximately 13% of temporarily empty positions. In some situations, one positive test within a classroom necessitates the quarantining of the entire room. Staffing shortages can cause an especially hard impact when it involves staff who have multiple duties.

“That’s a real problem,” Hillmann said of the staff shortages.

Just a week ago, Owatonna Superintendent Jeff Elstad announced that the district had 42 staff members that were out of school in quarantine or isolation with seven to 10 unfilled positions currently being covered by teachers during their prep periods.

“Our staffing coverage is becoming an emergent piece for us at this point,” Elstad said before the Owatonna School Board approved the shift to distance learning. Staffing issues were among several factors which contributed to the switch.

Many regional districts have dipped into their federal COVID-19 funding to help pay for extra staff support, including educational assistants and substitutes. Additional funds have gone toward purchasing technology for teachers to teach from home. While some teachers are still able to teach from home during quarantine or isolation, others may be too sick to teach, effectively leaving a gap to be filled.

“When we are doing distance learning, if we have a teacher that falls ill that’s not able to conduct distance learning, we are repurposing some of our staff from the district to help with that, but we do also hire substitutes for the day to do distance learning,” Elstad told the People’s Press.

Even so, the district is having difficulty finding substitutes for positions across the district, as the pandemic has required substitutes to weigh their options. Many substitutes are unable to commit to subbing this year because of health concerns, Elstad said. Thus the general pool of fill-ins has decreased.

For those teachers who are still able to teach from home, a class supervisor, whether it’s another teacher, educational assistant, paraprofessional or substitute, is needed to monitor students in person in the classroom. In Medford schools, a paraprofessional is usually in the classroom monitoring students, according to Medford Superintendent Mark Ristau. Staffing issues are becoming more apparent at Medford schools too.

“It’s proven to be a little more difficult in the elementary, because maybe sometimes the kids are a little more squirrelly or there are some classroom management things, it’s more than just teaching and listening, there are some management things that come into play,” Ristau said of finding staff.

Blooming Prairie Superintendent Chris Staloch agreed that it’s more difficult to find classroom supervisors and substitutes for elementary level students compared to the older grades. Staloch said teachers who are still able to teach from home do so, pointing to the consistency and continued connections with students this option provides.

“Ideally, if we could have our teachers teaching, that is the best,” Staloch said.

However, Staloch said the district has been fortunate to have community members who were able to help out to fill some of those gaps when teachers are unable to teach. He credits them as one of the big reasons why Blooming Prairie was able to stay in their learning model for so long.

Ristau describes Medford’s substitute situation as “okay,” but also admits that the district has started needing teachers to step up and fill in where needed. Fortunately for both Medford and Owatonna schools, all staff have decided to return to teach this year despite the pandemic.

“Our staff is very committed to moving this forward and persevering through this pandemic,” Elstad said.

Blooming Prairie had one staff member who decided not to return because of COVID-19, which Staloch says is understandable given the situation.

Across Steele County, superintendents have praised teachers’ flexibility and hard work through this year’s ups and downs.

In-person learning won’t be an option for local schools for a while, as some schools have already transitioned to distance learning. By Nov. 30, the three school districts will be in distance learning, many with the goal of returning to their previous model by the second week of December.

The Faribault school district has had a similar trend, with all students going to distance learning with plans to remain in the model until the end of winter break.

“One of the reasons why we went to distance learning was because we were having a hard time finding substitutes,” Faribault Superintendent Todd Sesker said.

Like Steele County schools, Faribault schools have faced an increase in staff shortages in November due to staff becoming sick or having to quarantine.

By late October, all Faribault elementary schools were distance learning on Wednesdays. The switch was made so that students could practice for when the entire district provided distance learning.

Originally the district had planned to place only Faribault’s Lincoln Elementary in distance learning for two weeks, in part because of staffing issues. However, a few days later officials announced a district-wide closure and model switch.

Faribault teachers are teaching from home in quarantine and isolation if they are able to do so, according to Sesker.